A month or so ago I read thru an article on Rangefinder Magazine featuring the best wedding photography of the year. I forget right off hand what the title of the article was but it featured 30 photographers. Many of the images were stunning, within and of themselves, but almost all of them had a similar retouching applied to get a dark, gritty, dingey look. Even though the images themselves were beautiful the trendy grungy muddy retouching made almost all of the photographers work look the same and clearly dated the work to instantly scream “2017.”
When I first got started in photography back in 2009/2010 high dynamic range photography (commonly called HDR) was all the rage. This technique originally required special software and required the photographer to take several photographs (usually three or more exposures) which were then combined to get details in the lights and darks of an image. These images usually resulted in garish cartoonish images which were loved by non photographers and hated by professionals. Now thanks to improvements in smartphone technology HDR is even available on phone cameras and commonly known to most people today.
Shortly after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 plugin and app makers such as VISCO popularized presets and retouching techniques which made images look like they were shot on film. As a fellow Hallmark alumni and I predicted this hipster trend would die and die hard.
Back in the 1980s wedding photographers were the least respected group of working photographers in the industry, after the advent of digital photography nature and landscape photographers (with the exceptions of a few well knowns) took that position. Part of this was due to hideous trendy photos(like gaudy double exposures of people’s heads in wine glasses).
As time goes on I’m sure we’ll have to witness (suffer thru?) many trendy photographic styles; most of which will be caused by retouching and post processing more so than the photography itself. As I had mentioned when observing the recent trend of dark grungy images (which is possibly an overreaction to the airy faux film images of the few years prior) the original photographs (what was captured in camera) were gorgeous but the over processing is what permanently stamped them with the look and feel of 2017.
Imagine you come from a large family and each sibling had hired the same wedding photographer. Now imagine that the photographer simply adopted the trends of each year. The first 2010 couple would have gaudy HDR images, the second 2013 couple would have hipster-centric faux film images, and most recently photographed 2017 couple would have dark grungy images.
The antidote to modern trends in retouching is timelessness. I don’t take the purest view that all retouching is bad and that we should go back to ye olde film days. I have much respect for those who shoot with film but my formal training has been with digital therefore I stick with such. A consistent timeless approach to both the photography and retouching is something that I want to be a hallmark of my work.
Since receiving my formal training at Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 my photographic style hasn’t changed greatly. This isn’t an excuse for stagnancy. A photographer’s work should improve over time, and mine has, even though my overall style hasn’t changed. I flee novelty while still improving at my craft. As the years have went on I’ve gotten better at capturing gesture and expression in my images (something my early work lacked). I have also learned to shoot in ways requiring less retouching and post production (partially for pragmatic efficiency workflow reasons) and partially because my work is improving and I’m becoming less dependent on post production. I have always strived to present simple, clean, elegant portraiture (and wedding documentary) to my clients. These defining traits (clean, simple, and elegant) could also be used to describe my commercial, event, and fine art images as well. If you look at the slideshow on my homepage I have images spanning from 2013-2017. The changes in the imagery is subtle. Newer images show more expression and gesture while older images where a little more static and focused on technical precision. Despite the year taken the style as remained the same.
Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I strive to provide clean, simple, elegant photography for my clients regardless of current trends or what genre of photography I am photographing for them.